File it under the heading: the soundtrack of your life. We sojourners of the 20th and 21st centuries all have them. The swirling vibrations of the times we grew up in. From the pop charts and your radio, to stage, TV and film. All morphing over the span of years, forming the background to our listening ears.
My soundtrack had some freakish bumps or corners. The baseline was rock n roll, populated with the likes of the Beatles and the Rolling Stones and the Beachboys, with interludes of Broadway musical tunes. My tangent at this time came in the form of a private music teacher, by name Doris Tirrell. Doris was a local Brockton celebrity organist. She had had a radio show (Piano Etchings) on a Boston station back in the 1930s and 40s.
Doris was diminuative and plump in an Aunt Bea (of Mayberry fame) kind of way. She was even self deprecating in talking about herself, calling her gait a duck waddle. And the thickness of the lenses in her eyeglasses, so magnified the size of her eyes that it gave her the appearance of another bird – an owl. I was left to wonder if my ever increasing myopia would one day land me in the same flock.
On weekends, Friday and Saturday nights to be specific, Doris would come out to play an organ set up at the front of the cinema auditorium. My Dad had promoted it from a music store. A number of times she gave a little mini concert before the showings of The Sound of Music. She was a regular whirling dervish on the keyboards. She was fond of my Dad, so it may have been her idea to offer me lessons on the organ.
I dutifully went across town to her home (one time actually riding in a taxi – a first for me), and there Miss Tirrell (never Doris) instructed me in music theory. Playing scales on the instrument itself followed; and endless repetitions of “Mary had a little lamb.” She was a tough teacher, a perfectionist actually. I liked listening to her play, which she did often, for when I wasn’t getting it, she would move right in and play the piece herself, so I could hear how it should be played.
She had pictures mounted on her walls from her professional life. Most were black and white, but one in vibrant color held a position of honor. It was a close friend of hers, a Norwegian-American accordion player by the name of Myron Floren. Floren was the number two man in the Lawrence Welk organization, and would drop in to visit her whenever he was in the area. I have a vague recollection that my father had met him on one of these ocassions.
My career as an organ pupil didn’t last long. In a sense it faded away. Other things entered the soundtrack of my life – the siren tunes of Knights in White Satin [the Moody Blues] and A Whiter Shade of Pale [Procol Harum]. And the world itself was coming to a sharp corner; changes lay ahead, and music was a great part of it.
But if anything rubbed off on me under Miss Tirrell’s tutelage, I would say it would have to be that desire for perfection, that if anything is worth doing, it is worth doing well.